Part of identity negotiation for the young Nigerian (African) is that secularism is on ascendancy. They also understand the role being played by the tools of science and technology in shaping their existence. With that in mind, Islam and Christianity will have to brace up for more syncretism because the young generation will develop their own beliefs when doctrine goes contrary to their moral convictions…

For the last few months, I have been thinking about the issue of emerging identities as the Nigerian diaspora grows and I observe the attachment of children born to Nigerians abroad, to Nigeria. For instance, I have been wondering: What does it mean to be Yoruba in the 21st century? Globalisation, telephony, the internet and social media are throwing up a lot of fast and profound changes that are transforming our identities. These changes are especially important in shaping how young people see and express themselves and how they negotiate their place in a fast changing world. It is evident in their sartorial choices, their music, art, politics, beliefs and so on.

A few days ago, a young man known as Food Critic tweeted: “At a Baptist church in Isolo, groomsman duties and the reverend just told me I’m not allowed to wear earrings in church. I calmly left the church, guess it’ll be the reception for me. Shout out to Nigerian Christianity, and hope they have fine dining restaurants in hell.” His tweet provoked a lot of reactions on social media. Some opined that every organisation, be it religious or secular, have their set rules, which must be complied with to belong or gain access, while others believe that religious organisations should not turn people away because of their dressing. Should winning souls not be more important than what a person wears? Both sides of the argument have valid points, but what does the Bible say about men wearing earrings?

In coming years, Nigeria and indeed the whole of Africa will witness in its young population, struggles with identity and how this will be negotiated. In a broader sense, as a society, we are slow to accept the duality of change. 

Interestingly, both men and women wore earrings in the Bible. In Exodus 32:2-3: “So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” Numbers 31:50; “And we have brought the Lord’s offering, what each man found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and beads, to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.” Judges 8:24: “And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)” In Song of Solomon 1:10-11: “10. Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels. 11. We will make for you ornaments of gold, studded with silver.” I personally take the position of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:23 that “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up”. Nowhere in the Bible is the wearing of an earring or earrings by women or men, condemned.

Culture is largely responsible for what it means to be human. Culture also confers identity. We cannot divorce dressing from existing and emerging culture as one of the badges of identity. In coming years, Nigeria and indeed the whole of Africa will witness in its young population, struggles with identity and how this will be negotiated. In a broader sense, as a society, we are slow to accept the duality of change. Young people are being punished by religious and secular institutions for how they express their identity. Having dreadlocks is demonised, while wearing earrings and braiding hair by men are deemed effeminate.

How will we, as a society, navigate the welling currents of identity in the 21st century?…What role will culture and religious beliefs in different parts of the country play in shaping laws on identity formation and protection? Will plural identities be welcomed as an asset or demonised?

Human dignity, growth, freedom and peace depend on how social structures and institutions define and handle identity. As a society, we cannot be impervious to influences arising from internal and external interactions between cultures and how we assimilate new things. Identities evolve as inculturation happens in religious and secular spaces. Are these subjective interpretations of outward appearance and victimisation helpful in understanding young people and their choices? Certainly not. How will we, as a society, navigate the welling currents of identity in the 21st century? How will our laws deal with complicated consanguinity brought about by fertility treatments, blended families and surrogacy? What role will culture and religious beliefs in different parts of the country play in shaping laws on identity formation and protection? Will plural identities be welcomed as an asset or demonised? Who are we? What are we becoming? These and many more are questions for religious and secular institutions to ponder on.

Part of identity negotiation for the young Nigerian (African) is that secularism is on ascendancy. They also understand the role being played by the tools of science and technology in shaping their existence. With that in mind, Islam and Christianity will have to brace up for more syncretism because the young generation will develop their own beliefs when doctrine goes contrary to their moral convictions arising from contemporary secular issues. Like generations before them, they will pick and mix traditions and practices resulting from the mixing of cultures. For religionists, it is important to note that failure to accommodate social change will ultimately and effectively undermine the religion they are trying too hard to protect. Religion like culture is dynamic and often undergo revival.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú, an advocate, strategist and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Twitter: @BamideleUpfront; Facebook: facebook.com/Bamidele. BAO

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